The Safety Harbor Post office, located at 303 Main Street, is searching for a new location due the impending expiration of its current lease.
United States Postal Service officials held a federally mandated public meeting on Wednesday to clarify the status of the Safety Harbor branch, which reportedly must move from its longtime home at 303 Main Street due to an expiring lease.
But while USPS real estate specialist Damian Salazar did supply answers to many of the questions surrounding the situation, namely that they are being forced out by the landlord and they plan to find a bigger, existing location somewhere within the city limits, some questions remained unanswered at the conclusion of the 45-minute meeting.
For example, Salazar stated they received an eviction notice from the property owner sometime last year, around September or October, informing the USPS that they had until the end of their lease in March 2019 to vacate the building, located at the corner of Third Avenue North and Main Street in the heart of the downtown district.
“The landlord provided us with a written notice to relocate, and it’s my job to find a new location,” Salazar told the crowd of roughly 60 people that packed the post office lobby, adding, “The landlord is in the process of redeveloping the property and the post office is not incorporated in the redevelopment plans.”
Safety Harbor Mayor-elect Joe Ayoub speaks at the post office meeting on March 15, 2017.
However, Safety Harbor mayor-elect Joe Ayoub said there was a discrepancy regarding that information.
“It’s my understanding that city officials have spoken to the landlord and there’s a discrepancy,” Ayoub, who defeated Janet Hooper in the municipal election on Tuesday, said.
“From what I’ve heard, they are open to renewing the lease.”
Salazar, who is based out of Dallas, said he couldn’t answer that based on the information he had.
“I can’t answer that. Originally, they were not willing to do anything,” he said. “We have a signed letter from the landlord saying that we are being evicted.”
After asking Salazar to provide the city with a copy of the letter, Ayoub then asked if a compromised could be struck during a meeting with all the involved parties, would the post office stay in its current location.
Signs showing support for the Safety Harbor post office were seen during the meeting on Wednesday.
Salazar was definitive in his answer.
“Our one-hundred percent intent is to make it work,” he said. “If we can keep it here, overall that’s what we want to do.”
A look at the USPS criteria for the new location, however, shows the PO is seeking to move somewhere that features significant increases in the building’s square footage, lot size and parking spaces.
Where the Main Street branch features 4,857 square feet of useable space on a lot that is 15,524-square-feet with negligible parking, the USPS is seeking a suitable property that includes a 6,400-square-foot building on a 54,000-square-foot lot with 54 available parking spaces.
To that point, Salazar acknowledged they have identified one such location as a possible new home for the branch.
“One location has been identified-the Fifth Third Bank building on McMullen Booth Road,” Salazar said. “That is the only site that has been identified to be reviewed.”
But the fact that the post office is seeking such a larger, preexisting location despite the fact that it might not have to move at all was not lost on many of the residents and city officials in attendance.
“Is this just a formality?” business owner and outspoken Safety Harbor resident Jim Barge asked.
“Because it sounds like you’ve already concluded that the best option is the Fifth Third building.”
Safety Harbor has had a post office since 1890, 30 years prior to the city’s incorporation in 1917.
Salazar reiterated their intention is to remain on Main Street.
When pressed, however, he admitted the decision will ultimately be made by USPS higher-ups.
“If the landlord is willing to go an additional 10-20 years, I’d bring it to upper management and they’d let me know,” he said.
When asked if that meant they could still leave even if the landlord allowed them to stay, Salazar replied, “Anything’s possible.”
Salazar did clear up some of the other details—and rumors—about the move, including:
- the USPS has no intention of relocating the branch to Oldsmar
- they do not plan to open a separate, smaller retail branch in town
- they are searching for preexisting locations and are not interested in new construction in order to make the transition process as quick and smooth as possible
- the decision whether to relocate or not will be made within 30 days of the March 15 meeting
- they are open to site suggestions, as long as they meet the USPS’ parameters
USPS real estate specialist Damian Salazar (l) addressed questions about the Safety Harbor branch on Wednesday, March 15, 2017.
Throughout the meeting, many of the residents in attendance let Salazar and the other postal officials know they are dead set against the branch moving.
One resident said if the landlord decided to redevelop the property, he would boycott any new establishment that took its place.
“If the owner forces the post office to leave, I will not step foot in any establishment he builds here, nor will my family, nor will my descendants, if they want to stay in the will,” Jon Harper said.
While Salazar said he understood that “99 percent of the people” don’t want the branch to close, he reiterated the decision is out of his hands.
After the meeting, Ayoub, who is set to take office next Tuesday, said he would work with the newly reconfigured commission and other city officials to attempt to save the branch.
“It’s very apparent that every resident in Safety Harbor wants to keep the post office in its current location, and the new commission is going to do everything we can to keep it in its current location or find a new location that’s suitable and within proximity of the downtown area,” he said.